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Grace Amidst Heart Break


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Inner landscape

These last two months have seen a cascade of change. I write from a pause – a time of calm from my warm room looking out at the treetops. The clouds are low. It is raining today. From this vantage point, I share some of what has been going on.

October Fires

The first week of October, Santa Rosa had fires. These fires burned 7000 structures in Santa Rosa alone including 5000 homes. Over 40,000 people had to evacuate. Along with the multitudes, Shanti, my special friend and the Awakening Truth Executive Director, Mom, Mom’s dog, Lacey and I evacuated. Mom and I headed to Milpitas, Shanti to Laguna Beach. This sudden dislocation was inconvenient and unsettling. However, each of us was eventually able to return home and the things we owned intact - a privilege that many thousand lost. One newly acquired ‘thing’ was my car that a freind sold me at a fraction of its value.


After getting Mom resituated, I left for the East coast to teach. When I returned, my health didn’t hold up. Air purifiers, masks, herbal remedies helped only a small amount. Trips to the beach were helpful, trips that wouldn’t have been possible without a car. Yet every time I got close to Santa Rosa, burning eyes, mouth, brain fog reappeared. Eventually when I wasn’t able to speak a few clear consecutive sentences, friends stepped in and said it was time to leave. Again.

Second Evacuation

With Shanti’s help, we evacuated. Once again we were on the road with unknown destination, the apartment left asunder – a tell tail sign of leaving in a hurry. I was advised to stay out of Santa Rosa until my symptoms were all gone.

After two weeks, my symptoms were still not gone. Mind was moving from one thing to the next, trying to find a solution that would enable me to respond to the community, support Mom and my own health needs. I had no answer.

Awareness and Love

From the whirlwind, I turned my attention to awareness and love. It was a faint glimmer, a distant memory. Putting my attention there, it grew. I felt it in my body. As I could feel it, I relaxed. As I relaxed more, the tangible expereince of awareness and love got stronger. The more it filled me up and suffused my body, heart and mind, the more I trusted it. Yet, I felt myself pulling back with all the things I had to do, who I was to different people, the expectations I had of myself and my hungers to fulfill them. As my identities, roles and expectations were keeping me bound up and anxious, I let them go. As I let them go, something shifted.

Maybe it is a little akin to what happens when you make butter. Initially you have cream where the fat is suspended in water. But after churning it inverts and water is suspended in fat. In the same way, awareness was no longer suspended in me; I was suspended in awareness. But this is where the metaphor falls apart. I wasn't simply suspended in awareness, I became porous, a thin veil from which awareness and love poured in and out. I was peaceful and clear. All of the conundrums and complexity involved with health, home, Mom, and community, still were just as pressing as they had been yet somehow, everything was different.

Silver Lining in the Cloud

On the road, people were welcoming, offering accommodation and friendship. Being on the road allowed for spontaneous community gatherings, teaching and discussions which were delicious and rich. It seems that even when life circumstances are unsettled, and health isn't optimal, the Dharma pours through unhindered and clear.

Return to Santa Rosa

After 3.5 weeks staying with several friends in their homes in Ojai, San Clemente, Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, it was time to return to Santa Rosa even though I was still not symptom free. There had been several days of really heavy rain while I was away. Friends reported no smell of smoke in the air and were hopeful.

Re-entering the city, my eyes and mouth started to burn immediately. Along with all of this physical burning, my heart ached. The impending implications were daunting.


I asked if I could sublet the apartment, but the owners did not agree. So I relinquished it. With the new tenent, they raised the rent. While some people step up to help, other use the hardship to profit.

Moving was only possible with a lot of community support. 

Susan Hartz, an aquaintance from Julian Cell meditation group, had put her lovely Forestville home up for sale six weeks before the fires hoping to move into Santa Rosa. It didn’t sell. After the fires, price wars caused chaos in the housing market and homes were selling from 150K - 300K above asking prices. Susan would have been able to sell her house quickly but buying one was another story. She took it off the market, resigned but not happy to live another winter alone. She offered me a room, delighted to have a companion. Again without a car this wouldn't have been impossible.  It is fortunate this worked out as there are many still homeless. Forestville is 25 minutes west of Santa Rosa. Ensconced in trees, the air here is better. 

I oscillated back and forth between gratitude for my new housemate, her offering me a beautiful sunny room and sadness. The apartment where I lived held our community gatherings. Letting it go meant letting go of a place we could regularly meet. Sally Singingtree, Kris Hall and Susan Carney each offered to host one of our meditation gatherings and discussions. Their hospitality allows continuation and new opportunities. 


I was settling. Health was improving and my living situation was going to be a good place stay for a while. All of a sudden Mom started behaving very differently and needed more support. It looks like she has been having mini strokes. Her doctors say she has dementia and keeping her safe at some point may require different housing.

There is nothing like the need to protect love ones to catapult action and activity. Day and night suddenly filled up with doctor visits, research, and discussions with my brother David Fein and Mom’s closest friends. There is a bitter-sweet gladness to this new phase of being a care partner with Mom. I’m deeply grateful I’m here to support. It is such a treasured time. I see myself moving through list of things to do against the emotinal reality of what this means. My activity dissipates anxiety and distracts me from the dull ache of loss. Dementia is devastating even if rampant. I feel my self pulling back, not wanting to commit to writing what I know to be true. As if by not mentioning it, naming it, I can better protect her. 

Ancient Redwoods

One night I went to ancient redwood trees not far from me. Nestled at their roots, I gazed up at the canopy far above. I felt protected and safe, as if I were swaddled in a blanket. I gave my body over for the Earth to hold. In the cool moist air, one breath at a time, compression slowly relaxed. I felt calm. Awareness was present. It was not defined by any of my roles. It didn’t depend on me having answers. It didn’t need Mom to respond in familiar ways. It was embracing, allowed everything to be just as it was.

I came out of the woods, grounded, rested, bright, feeling the full length of my body reaching into the dark sky with my weight sinking into the spongy earth below my feet. As I came out from under the canopy, the moon was nearly full and surrounded by a great rainbow ring. I got in my car, turned on the ignition and the panel lit up. The odometer read 191919. I took it as a sign to pay close attention.

What I have been through and continue to go through has symmetry. These times speak of beginnings and endings, of yin and yang of staying balanced and resourced in the middle of upheaval.

We Are Not Alone

All around me others are also dealing with huge changes and upheavals. The fires have caused secondary and tertiary moves, work and health issues on a massive scale. It has also generated a huge outpouring of support.

Shanti first moved to Laguna Beach to work in her aunt’s gallery. But when Southern California fires began, their clientele weren’t buying fine art. Shanti has now moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. In Shanti’s moving out of Santa Rosa, Awakening Truth has lost a fine community member and excellent Executive Director. I miss my friend.

Laurie was visting in Sonoma County and welcomed me to stay in her home in Ojai when I evacuated the second time. Hardly had I returned to Sonoma County, when Southern California fires began. Laurie evacuated. I was in regular contact with her, watching the fire map daily as fire surrounded her neighborhood. Miraculously, a small bubble safely ensconced her home and some nearby. She still cannot return because the smoke damage to her home and toxicity of the area. From Northern and Southern California fires, many are still displaced.


Impermanence is a characterisitc of exisitence. We are reminded there is no certainty anywhere; nothing lasting to hold on to. But the magnitidue of what we are facing is hard to grasp, hard to make sense of and process. My ability to do this has been direclty connected to understanding and advocating for succesively complex needs.

During the first evacuation from the fire, Lacey, Mom's dog, couldn't relieve herself for two full days. When what is going on is too big to process, we need the same care and kindness we would give the dog who is so stressed that she can't pee or poo. We have to start where we are at. Meeting basic physiological and safetly needs support heart and mind opening to bigger perspectives and timeless truths. 

I look at what is going on for me, Mom and for many of us. I see it as an opportunity to learn about love, learn what not having a fixed identity might mean in a completely new way. Ordinary mind focuses either on the good or bad, either the kindness and generosity or the losses and the devastation. When mind opens to awareness, a third option is revealed. Here it is possible to embrace the tender underbelly of being human, feel the importance and fragility of loved ones, our communities, the grief of personal and collective loss, and stay tuned to the mystery. Herein is the rich intersection of the human timebound journey and what is timeless.

The Call and the Catalyst

These are extraordinary times, seeking the center of a whirlwind in full catastrophe living. This isn’t all nicely tied up where calm abiding makes everything OK. Instead, this is an invitation into the messiness of being human in a world on fire. It is a tribute to the kindness and generosity of both friends and strangers, people who take time to extend a hand, help hold us and problem solve the struggle, give support where it is needed and witness what is. This is an expression of gratitude for smiles and encouragement in our small and large successes; for forgiveness and patience when we fail. This is a call to pay attention in a way that allows wholeness to emerge, love to grow stronger both in the ways we understand and advocate for ours and other's needs and to know what doesn’t burn.

On this day and all the rest; yours in this shared human experience,

With love,


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Amma Thanasanti
This poem from David Whyte touches me: HEARTBREAK is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over whic... Read More
Saturday, 13 January 2018 11:16

The Darkness Before the Light

Amma Thanasanti


Our world is in descent.


This summary of steps of a personal journey may help navigate the bigger picture.


Many life-changing events happened. I wasn’t willing. I was cornered – There was no way I could think or maneuver myself out of the situation and I didn’t see other options. With every ounce of fur, fang and resistance I could muster, I battled every inch as I stepped into the trenches to do the work. My resistance softened out of sheer exhaustion. Slowly I turned toward what I feared. I was confused and agitated. I unraveled. Descent into darkness was dismantling, disorienting, and dangerous. I didn’t know who I was, or what to plan more than a few days ahead. What was disallowed, repressed and unacceptable was unleashed. As my mind body processes were held in a frame of moral integrity and observing witness, until what is pervasive emerges. Guides support me in the process, I averted danger. Eventually, light emerges.


What is, is.  It won’t go away.


I feel how unacceptable, shocking, infuriating, terrifying and defeating this is.


At some point, I get worn out. When I get curious about the way that I experience my resistance, it begins to change.

Turning towards fears-

Underneath my resistance are my fears. I turn toward them, see them and name them. As courage builds, I feel them.


When I start to let go, assumptions, frame-works and belief systems fall away. In this place where I can’t locate myself, what opens up?


When I feel a large space without characteristics of identity, and there isn’t anything holding the fall, descent is frightening. I need to regularly soothe my anxiety to keep from meltdown.


In this big space, what happens to “me”? What is asking for acceptance?


There is so much that is at risk, the magnitude is overwhelming. Where do I engage to bring more safety? I prioritize needs and make sure that self-care is on the list. I do what is most compelling. Direct action helps dispel anxiety.

Unleashing what is disallowed-

I look at my contribution. Where am I interested in my own comfort at the expense of others or the Earth? When am I unable to fathom another’s perspective and go into judgment or dismissal? When do I condone racism, misogyny or religious profiling? What support do I need to make different choices? Where have I internalized these things in myself? What supports me releasing these patterns?

Moral Integrity-

Regularly affirming the intention to do no harm, and to support what is beneficial to all beings gives me a rudder when everything familiar is falling apart.

All Pervasive Love and Awareness-

I balance keeping my body healthy with letting go completely. I let go of thoughts, feelings, sensations and relax attention into what is groundless. I let go of trying. I rest.  Body and mind drop away. What remains is vast, luminous and pervasive. The mind extends beyond all reaches, limitations.  Love, awareness, energy pervade everything and everyone. Who and what I am becomes a thin veil,  conecting what is pouring in, to what is pouring out. There is no separation.  


These are my mentors, therapists, friends, rocks, animals, trees, practices and qualities of mind that remind me to stop resisting, to be present and meet what is arising. They hold me as I let go. They help me get up in the morning when I feel bruised to the bone and devestated and do what needs to be done. They support me to access seamless reality and remove obstacles that occlude it.

Emergent Light –

Death has been a gateway, an opportunity for new life. When I meet my own darkness,  dare the world to end in me, I live with less fear. I’m motivated to return to what is vast, timeless, and ever present. In the middle of THAT accumulations release and clarity emerges. There is reciprocity between people, culture, the physical world and “me." Darkness is within the light and light emerges from the descent into darkness. My heart is full. I'm ready to do what is needed include meet my own human fraility in the journey of bringing relative and pervasive kindness and truths into the world.

The devil whispered in my ear, “You will not be able to survive the storm.”

I whispered back, “I am the storm.” 

                                                                                Author Unknown

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Adya and love

Self Love

Adya and love

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Love, Belonging and Existential Emptiness

I live in no man’s land, right next to a piece of road that is unincorporated by the county. Sandwiched between the cities of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, it seems to belong to no one.

In England I was part of a large community of monastics in a well-established tradition with excellent support. I left all this behind when I returned to the US. I live without a community of other Buddhist monastics near by, where wearing robes and living as an alms mendicant continue to be foreign to most people I encounter. As a female Buddhist monastic in a secular world, I live in my own no man’s land. I sometimes ask, where do I belong?

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